P&W Prompt 16: J. Gabriel

This week’s Poets & Writers‘ prompt:

Write a poem that explores how you were named and the meaning of your name. Include at least one bold lie.

This is an especially interesting prompt for me because I had my name legally changed when I was 28. So, in essence, I named myself. Here’s the first (and only) draft:

J. Gabriel

I’m one of those people with an initial
for a first name. J. Folks want to know
what it stands for. Sometimes,
I let them guess. You’d be amazed
at the names they come up with:

Julianne, Josephine, Jezebel. Really,
one guy actually thought my name
was Jezebel. Maybe that should tell me
something. Sometimes I tell them
the truth. Sometimes, I lie. Like

with Jezebel. That nameless guy at the bar
probably tells stories about how he met
a real-life Jezebel who went by the deceitful
middle name of Gabriel. What a contraction,
Jezebel Gabriel.

The truth is: my name is not Gabriel either. At least,
it wasn’t. You’d be amazed at what can be done
with twenty-seven dollars and a courthouse.
I could be J. Rock Star if I wanted, or just
J. Rock if poets were as infamous as all that.

As it were, Gabriel was a name born
in my father’s dying. As if his halting breath
was mine. As if that first name grew shallower
with his slow leaving until it could only stand
as a letter, a specter of a name, carried
on the backs of angels.

I like the way the poem opens and maintains a humorous tone until the final stanza where it turns in a more serious direction. At first, I titled it “J. (Jezebel)” – liking the whole Jezebel section of the poem. But, in the end, it didn’t fit with where the poem goes. I don’t really like “J. Gabriel” as a title either, and I think there’s a pretty big shift in terms of rhythm between the poem and the final stanza. And I don’t know what the reader is able to decipher out of the poem – is it clear that I changed my name after my father’s death? I think so, but I’m not sure. Is the turn too hard? Maybe. It’s a poem I’m going to continue working on. Maybe something will come out of it. Who knows? 😉

As always, I’d love to see your own attempts at this fun prompt. Kudos to P&W for this one!

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2 thoughts on “P&W Prompt 16: J. Gabriel

  1. I like “Initial” as a title. It suggests the beginning of something, which is what your self-naming turned out to be. I think the naming coming after your father’s death is clear, but I lack an understanding in the poem of why you needed to change it in the first place. I love the bar story, but I wish you would unleash a little more of your erudite sense of humor on the whole Jezebel/Gabriel thing. A litany of biblical names, a rant, something. The energy of the poem is begging for a ramp-up that is, for present, absent. A contemplation on the power of a name would be welcome.

    • I LOVE “Initial” as the title! Can’t believe I didn’t think of that 😉 And you’re totally right, of course, about the urgency brewing in the stanzas – it does call for a rant of some sort. I could feel that as I was writing, but just didn’t have it in me in the initial drafting stage (no pun intended). I’ll be sure to post a revised version when I get around to it. I generally post 1st and 2nd drafts on these prompts, but I’m running behind on everything it seems lately and just didn’t have the time to work on it. Thanks for the suggestions – great as always. xx.

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